If you think about it, each Thanksgiving meal is like a play. It’s acted out in scenes: each scene is a new course, and each course brings new characters, who — if all goes as planned — give applause-worthy performances.
You’ve already selected most of the cast: A roast bird may take the lead role, the stuffing right there next to it, fighting for the spotlight. You may even be sure of your staging. (Haven’t yet figured out how to arrange everything? Take your pick.)
But like all of us, you’re saving your secret weapons for last. They are the supporting roles of your meal — the ingredients and secret techniques that never quite get the glory, but who protect the whole show from being lackluster, one-dimensional. Maybe they exist to be pulled out at the last second, but this year, let’s start early, shall we?
Your soups and salads are key for setting the stage for the rest of the meal. How do you make that happen? If it’s a roasted root vegetable soup, fold in some brown butter right at the end of cooking. If a salad, drizzle it with an interesting oil (like pumpkinseed, hazelnut, or walnut). Your guests will be impressed, and the rest of the meal will follow suit.
This is perhaps the most popular side on the Thanksgiving table, so tread lightly: You want to enhance just enough so it becomes more special than before, but not so much that your guests can’t recognize it anymore. Try adding one big celeriac root per five pounds of potatoes, or make like the Canal House ladies, and slip little pieces of butter in. This way, guests will run into melted pockets. Watch from the other side of the table — this will be entertaining.
For a lot of us, the bird will be the height of your Thanksgiving play — so we’re giving you three tricks to have up your sleeves. Use them separately, if you like, or for extra security (read: a really delicious turkey), combine their forces.
1. Two words: dry-brining. You can dry-brine frozen, you can dry-brine fresh — however you do it, you won’t believe how perfectly juicy your turkey will come out.
2. If you can let go of traditional presentation, spatchcocking will be your best friend. Also known as butterflying, your spatchcocked bird will cook quickly, evenly, and leave much more room in your oven for more beloved sides.
3. A genius tip from our developer Amanda Li: Put water, mixed with just a bit of honey, on the bottom of the roasting pan, so the bird steams as it roasts. It will stay as moist as can be.
The secret to mastering Thanksgiving’s most famous condiment is mastering more than one. Our developer Michael reminds us that making multiple relishes will have a big impact. Clearly, you can’t forego the cranberry, but go a little wild on the second. (Or to Tuscany, the choice is yours.)
It’s Pie Time
Saving room for pie will be even more important this year: Instead of sprinkling just sugar on your apple pie, mix it with equal parts salt. Then bake, and watch it disappear.
Before you set off to prep, there are two more things you need to keep in mind for the big day. First, share the workload. Let a friend bring a pie, hand gravy duty over to whoever you make your loyal sous Thanksgiving Thursday. And last (but certainly not least), make enough food for leftovers. These are going to be the best sandwiches of your lives, people, and it happens once a year.
What are your go-to holiday tricks? If you’re willing to share your secrets, let us know in the comments!
Food52 helps people become better, smarter, happier cooks. Food52 was named 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and won Best Culinary Website at the 2013 IACP awards.